With the American Civil War's outbreak, neither the North nor the South had sufficient military forces to conduct a war. Both the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, at first, relied upon volunteers either to form or to bolster their respective militaries.
With the American Civil War's outbreak, neither the North nor the South had sufficient military forces to conduct a war. Both the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, at first, relied upon volunteers either to form or to bolster their respective militaries. Typically, individual states would recruit and send volunteers to their respective federal governments. Initially, many states relied on militia forces. Historically, every British colony in North America had established a militia. The militia usually consisted of adult, able-bodied men, who would rally to defend the colonies and, following the American Revolution, states during military crises. By the start of the American Civil War, unfortunately for both the Confederate States of America and the United States of America, most state militias were in a decline and unprepared for a major war.
In Ohio, Governor William Dennison hoped to supply the United States government with men and supplies from the Ohio militia. Ohio's militia system was virtually nonexistent by 1861. While militia forces played a vital role in Ohio's history from the American Revolution to the War of 1812, most major military threats to Ohio's security ended with the War of 1812. Following this conflict, the federal government quickly removed most Native Americans further west, and in the decades immediately following the war, no European or other major power attacked the United States. Facing no serious internal or external threats, most states, including Ohio, allowed their militia organizations to weaken. Most militia groups became mere social organizations and did not actively practice or study military maneuvers or tactics.
Dennison quickly discovered that Ohio's militia system could not play an active role in the American Civil War. Following the Battle of Fort Sumter and President Abraham Lincoln’s call for seventy-five thousand volunteers to return the seceded states to the Union in April 1861, Ohio's governor sent Jacob Cox, a state politician, and George McClellan, a former United States Army officer and current businessman, to Ohio's arsenal to assess the availability of weapons and supplies. Cox and McClellan found three or four crates of smoothbore muskets, a number of inoperable six-pound cannons, and some mildewed horse harnesses. Upon learning of the dire condition of the state's military supplies, Dennison still encouraged Ohioans to reestablish militia units to defend the state from Southern attack and to assist the federal government in reuniting the nation.
Ohioans quickly responded to the governor's and the federal government's call for troops. Among Ohio's earliest regiments was the 21st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry. This organization enrolled between April 19, 1861 and April 26, 1861. Companies A, F, and G organized at Findlay, Ohio on April 19, 20, and 26, 1861 respectively. Company B formed at Gilead, Ohio on April 23, 1861. Company C organized at Perrysburg, Ohio on April 25, 1861. Company D originated at Ottawa, Ohio on April 20, 1861. Company E formed at Kalida, Ohio on April 20, 1861. Company H organized at Fostoria, Ohio on April 23, 1861. Company I formed at Elmore, Ohio on April 26, 1861. Company K organized at Defiance, Ohio on April 24, 1861. The State of Ohio formally mustered the companies into service for three months of duty from May 20 to May 22, 1861, with the effective muster date being April 27, 1861. The companies mustered into service at Camp Taylor at Cleveland, Ohio.
On May 23, 1861, the 21st Regiment departed Cleveland for Gallipolis, Ohio, stopping in Columbus, Ohio to acquire weapons. The regiment stayed at Gallipolis until July 3, 1861, when officials ordered the organization to Ravenswood, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia). After reaching Ravenswood, the 21st and other Union forces advanced to Ripley, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia) and attacked Confederates under the command of O. Jennings Wise. The Northerners routed the Southerners in this engagement. The 21st then boarded steamships and returned to Gallipolis.
On July 11, 1861, the 21st marched to Red House, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia), where the organization performed a scouting mission. The regiment engaged Confederate forces at the Battle of Scarytown, Virginia (modern-day West Virginia) on July 17, 1861. In this encounter, the 21st had four men killed and several more wounded and captured.
In late July 1861, the 21st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry received orders to travel to Columbus, Ohio. On August 12, 1861, officials mustered the regiment out of duty. During its term of service, the regiment had four men killed on the battlefield, eight men die from disease, and three men drown.